Next weekend marks the anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary, and the town of Newtown has asked that the press stay away out of respect for the grieving families and community. Brooke discusses media coverage in light of this request as well as the ethics of airing the recently released 911 phone calls with executive editor of NPR news, Madhulika Sikka.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Fast approaching, a grim anniversary, one that a small town in Connecticut awaits with sorrow and apprehension.
SPOKESWOMAN: On December 14th, we’ll have a moment of silence for Newtown.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You’re hearing an ad from a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
SPOKESWOMAN: But with 26 more school shootings since that day…
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A new CNN poll finds that support for stricter gun laws has dropped, from 55 to 49 percent, since the shootings in Newtown.
SPOKESWOMAN: [TICKING SOUND] Ask yourself, is silence what America needs right now?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, many in the media are asking some version of that question, especially since the 911 tapes from that day were just released.
OPERATOR: Newtown 911. What's the location of your emergency?
CALLER: Hi, Sandy Hook School. I think there is somebody who’s shooting in here.
PAT LLODRA: “My plea is for the media to treat us kindly,” Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra wrote in her blog. “The release of the tapes,” she wrote, “will create a new layer of pain for many in the Newtown community. Fox, CBS and CNN all have aired edits of the recordings. ABC, NBC and NPR have not and will not. CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin offered a spirited defense.
JEFFREY TOOBIN: This is a major event in American history.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Major.
JEFFREY TOOBIN: The Congress almost voted gun-control –
BROOKE BALDWIN: Right.
JEFFREY TOOBIN: - because of this. I think that means it’s something that the public needs to know about.
RACHEL MADDOW: We will not play them here. You can seek them out yourself, if you really need to hear them. Congratulations, CBS.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is firmly in the “not” camp, with explicit contempt for those who choose to air the tapes and implicit contempt for any among us who would seek them out.
RACHEL MADDOW: The actual audio is of no news value at all, unless you want the thrill of hearing the sound of the actal – actual individual gunshot that might have killed the seven-year-old.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here’s Madhulika Sikka, NPR’s executive editor of news.
MADHULIKA SIKKA: We made a determination that there was no particular advancement of the story by playing them, so we decided not to play them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You may not learn more about war from seeing a photo than you would from reading a text, but it can convey the horror in a visceral way. One could argue that the tapes are the equivalent of a battlefield photo, and it does have news value.
MADHULIKA SIKKA: Well, our hope is that the stories that you will be hearing on NPR and the families who so graciously chose to share their experience with us, in some ways, may be even more powerful. What can be more powerful than listening to parents who lost their children in the most heinous way possible, who are trying to do something with that experience? I would argue that there is maybe a greater power to that than to listening to 911 calls.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Maybe, probably. But as news consumers, we need to ask ourselves what we truly seek on that anniversary of almost unimaginable horror and loss. Do we need to feel it, like an aching tooth or as a spur to action? We feel we've suffered, and it's good to suffer, but not like the people of Newtown. Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra.
DENNIS HOUSE: So you’d like the media to stay out of town on the – on December 14th.
PAT LLODRA: We definitely would like the media to stay out of town. We don’t want anyone to forget this happened, though. We’re not saying to people, pretend it never happened. It did happen, and we understand the importance of honoring that day, so I mean, I think that the media could participate in but not from Newtown.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I won’t go to Newtown, and I don’t think I’m unusually prurient. I've never sought out pictures of horror, beheadings on the Internet. But I do feel the need to connect to that day. I don't want to read a reporter’s description of the tapes. But next week, I may need to hear them, for myself, for real.
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